Mediapolis: Shannon Mattern on "5000 Years of Urban Media"

By Mack Hagood
Mediapolis

Code and Clay, Data and Dirt (Shannon Mattern)Media archeology is a field that attempts to understand new and emerging media by examining old and often dead media technologies. Shannon Mattern takes inspiration from the field but notes that most of its “digging in the past” is metaphorical. “What if we took media archeology literally,” she writes, “and borrowed a few tricks from archeologists of the stones-and-bones variety?” Her book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, released in November 2017 by University of Minnesota Press, pushes us in that direction.

Each chapter moves us farther back in time in an examination of old urban media infrastructures, starting with the sonic technologies of the telegraph and radio, then moving to the urban emplacement of the printing press, followed by an examination of the earliest surfaces for writing—clay and stone—and finally, perhaps the oldest medium of them all, the human voice. Each of these media reorganized the city around itself and each of them is still with us today, as past and future media co-mingle in the present.

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